Massage Therapy Schools

Humans communicate in a variety of ways. One major way humans communicate is through touch. In the 1960s, research by the American psychologist Harry Harlow with rhesus monkeys concluded isolation is unhealthy for mammals. In the study, monkeys were isolated and were not touched for up to a year. The result was severely depressed, socially maladjusted, and physically ill monkeys. Other studies by later scientists demonstrated that the lack of touch or limited touch caused stress reactions in the body, and over a long span of time, resulted in irritability, suppressed immune systems, and a general decline in health. Touch is not just a behavior humans do because it feels good, but because it is important to good health. Massage therapy recognizes that appropriate touch is essential for our well-being.

  • Massage therapy is the medical practice of gently stroking or kneading various parts of the body to improve health. Different maladies call for different techniques.
  • Health care professionals recommend massage therapy school techniques for musculoskeletal, circulatory, lymphatic, and nervous system disorders.
  • Doctors note patients have a more positive mood, increased blood flow, reduced edema, and pain relief after a massage session. It is one of the oldest prescribed practices known to promote healing.


Up until the twentieth century, massage therapy was widely practiced. However, with the coming of the availability of pain relief pills in the United States, the technique nearly became extinct. The rest of the world, though, continued to include massage therapy as part of a regiment to induce or quicken healing. In the 1970s, massage therapy in the United States began to make a comeback with the movement of using alternative or natural therapies to cure illnesses. The public was becoming increasingly concerned about drug use among youth. As abuses of prescription drugs came into the spotlight, the public began to seek better ways of promoting and maintaining good health.

Today the American Medical Association recognizes massage therapy as a legitimate treatment for patients. Massage or medical massage therapists are often licensed professionals and part of hospital medical teams. Massage therapists do not diagnose ailments. Doctors must prescribe massage as part of a patient’s treatment. In 2002, the U.S. Department of Education recognized the Commission on Massage Therapy Accreditation as the accrediting agency for licensing massage therapists and massage therapy schools. This professionalization of massage therapy is moving the treatment from its status of alternative medicine to mainstream medicine. Insurance companies are beginning to add the therapy to their lists of legitimate treatments covered by patients’ benefits.

As the baby boomer generation continues into its senior years, alternatives to expensive pills and remedies to relieve chronic pain will continue to be added to mainstream medicine. Natural aging has its share of aches and pains that are not part of a disease, but simply a result of wear and tear on the body. Therapies that support the body’s natural healing process will continue to be discovered as research highlights more positive ways to stay healthy.

Choosing a Massage Therapy School

The first thing a future massage therapist needs to check is whether massage therapy school is accredited. Accreditation means the state or the professional organizations approve of a school’s program and that the program will provide the student the needed knowledge to be successful in the profession and be able to pass the exam. There are two types of accreditation. There is accreditation by the state and by professional organizations. Check with your state about accredited professional organizations. If the state issues the license, they have the final say on accreditation issues, and many states have an approved provider list.

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Massage therapy schools come in a variety of shapes and sizes. There are private institutions run by expert massage therapists. A person needs to check out the reputation of the instructor and owner in these schools. Contact students who have graduated from the private institutions and ask their opinion of how the program prepared them for the exam and the profession. The courses in most cases will concentrate on only massage therapy.

There are massage therapy schools housed in community colleges. These schools tend to be more expensive and require more courses, but they provide a well-rounded education. The advantage is community college programs will meet the state standards, have financial aid available, provide career help and job search services, and will arrange exam registration, licenses, and registration with the state. If massage therapy is not your first career and you have prior college credits, you may be able to transfer the prior college credits to the massage therapy program.

Some massage therapy schools are associated with hospitals and institutes. These massage therapy schools will lean toward medical massage rather than massage for personal development. If a future massage therapist wishes to work in assisted living facilities, health clinics, or hospitals then these schools are probably the best fit.

Whatever kind of school a future massage therapist chooses, they need to pay close attention to the philosophy and curriculum of a program. A future massage therapist will want to pick the program in which the curriculum covers the state standards thoroughly for the state they plan to work in. Standards vary in each state, and a license in one state may or may not allow a therapist to practice in another.

Cover all your bases and do some research. Determine your goals as a massage therapist. It is best to ask yourself questions such as: Do you want to run a business or work for someone else? What perspective or aspect of massage therapy do you want to do? Medical? Healing? Spa? The answers to these questions will point you to what type of school will be best for you.

Massage Therapy School Ranking

There is no national ranking among massage therapy schools. The professional organizations and the state legislatures are still in the process of standardizing massage therapy schools. In 1992, the NCBTMB started the process by developing and overseeing a national exam. In 2010, the massage therapy professional organizations came together and created the Massage Therapy Body of Knowledge (MTOK). The MTOK provides a framework for standard curriculum and knowledge first-year massage therapists should know after schooling.

Choosing a Massage Therapy School

In addition, massage therapy is a broad field with many types of massage techniques categorized several ways. Different schools emphasize different aspects and techniques of massage therapy in their programs. Massage therapy school programs are anywhere from one year to four years long with the average being one-year programs. All that makes it extremely difficult to make a list of rankings.

What is available is a website dedicated to bringing information to the public and massage therapy students. The website is www.naturalhealers.com. This site provides a listing by state of the most comprehensive and accredited programs available in massage therapy. It allows a student to obtain information, compare schools, ask questions, and read answers to common questions.

The site lists Cortiva Institute, National Holistic Institute, Bryan College, and Everest College as having the top massage therapy programs. It does not provide information on how it arrived at this list, but the site is comprehensive, thorough, and fair.

Cortiva Institute is part of a community of massage therapy schools. It has nearly two hundred years of collective experience in the field. Schools provide a comprehensive education in massage therapy grounded in best practices and scientific research. Its curriculum is comprehensive and innovative. Students receive hands-on experience at Cortiva’s professional and student clinics. It provides an online job portal and placement assistance for graduates.

National Holistic Institute is the largest and one of the most respected schools in massage therapy. The school is accredited nationally and has a record of placing 80 percent of its graduates with work. It pioneered comprehensive massage therapy programs and has a massage emergency response team. This team organizes volunteers to massage rescue and recovery workers at disaster sites.

Bryan College has day and evening classes, individualized instruction, and a proven record of excellence since 1940. Presently there is no description of the massage therapy program on its website, but it does state information can be requested.

Everest College also provides a massage therapy program. The program alternates between classroom and lab experiences. The courses are led by former industry professionals. At the end of the program, career services are provided. This program leans toward basic knowledge and practices of massage therapy.

Massage Therapy School Accreditation

Accreditation involves voluntarily allowing an independent party to come in and do peer review of a massage therapy school program. Accreditation checks the level the school performs at, its integrity, and the quality of the program.

There are two kinds of accreditation. Accreditation can come from the state. Accreditation means the program has met all the review criteria for instructors and curriculum and has covered the state competencies. Accreditation can also come from professional organizations. In most cases, accreditation from the state or the professional organization is similar. However, the state has the final say, so a massage therapist should check to see if the state approves of the professional organization. Some professional organizations that accredit programs are the American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA), Accrediting Commission on

Career Schools and Colleges of Technology (ACCSCT), and Commission on Massage Therapy Accreditation (COMTA). All of them are good organizations.

Articles and books vary on the number of accredited massage therapy programs. The most common figure for state accreditation is three hundred schools in the United States. COMTA has eighty-five accredited schools. To receive accreditation from a professional organization, a school must join that professional organization. Lack of a professional organization accreditation does not mean a school is not good. Lack of a state accreditation in a state that accredits programs, however, is an indication of a problem.

Massage Therapy School Curriculum

Massage therapy schools and their curriculum are marching toward national standardization. The creation of a national exam by the NCBTMB went a long way in pushing the standardization process across the states and the nation. There was also a need for a national curriculum rather than a state-by-state curriculum to facilitate standardization. In 2010, the professional organizations came to a consensus and created the Massage Therapy Body of Knowledge (MTOK). MTOK defines massage curriculum that aligns with best practices and the national exam. Now, forty-two states have a list of competencies that have to be met to qualify to register for the national exam.

In this new curriculum, which is similar to many state curriculums, twelve areas that an entry-level massage therapist needs to learn are described. The areas are an overview of massage and bodywork history, anatomy and physiology, kinesiology, pathology, assessment, treatment planning and documentation, research and information literacy, business practices, boundaries, ethics and therapeutic relationship, body mechanics and self-care, and therapeutic modalities. A massage therapy school should now cover this curriculum. For detailed information, the website www.mtbok.org has the document.

In addition, a future massage therapist should check with a massage therapy school on how many hours of practical or clinical experience is incorporated into the program. It is important that a person get hands-on practice in massage technique—the more, the better. A school should offer opportunities for internships. Some schools also provide a clinical experience at hospitals, hospices, or businesses. Most programs require a minimum of five hundred hours of training before certification.

Massage Therapy School Open House

Open house is a free event that massage therapy schools provide so that prospective students have an opportunity to meet and greet a facility and its faculty. Events are listed on the Internet. Some places will require registration.

There is no set routine to the activities provided at an open house. Each school has their unique way of presenting themselves. Some give a sampling of course work, such as introduction to anatomy. Other schools have tours of the facility and give a massage. Often the schools have the staff and faculty present to address any questions a potential student may have. Financial aid counselors are often present to begin the process of applying for grants and scholarships.

Massage therapy is a broad subject with many techniques and perspectives. It is a good idea to spend some time at the schools you are considering attending. It is important that your goals as a massage therapist match the schools goals. It is also an opportunity to clarify what your beliefs about massage therapy are and what present working officials believe. By visiting facilities, you can make an informed decision on what is best for you.

Massage Therapy Credentials Earned

According to the American Massage Therapy Association, there are four parts to credentialing a massage therapist professional. The parts are training at an accredited massage therapy school, national certification, licensing, and joining a professional organization.

Training at an accredited school means the program has approval from a professional organization and follows guidelines set forth by the United States Department of Education. These guidelines insure that a program adequately covers the knowledge base of massage therapy and provides hands-on practice of the skills of massage. It gives a massage therapist professional creditability to have a certificate from an accredited school.

National certification is made possible by the NCBTMB. The skills, abilities, and knowledge of massage therapist students are evaluated by a national exam. Passing the exam means a student has meet the standards set forth by NCBTMB.

Licensing is the process of a government entity issuing a document that states the person has approval to go into practice. Licensing occurs after graduating from a program and passing an exam.

Last is joining a professional organization. Professional organizations provide a variety of continuing education services that help keep a massage therapist up to date. They also keep track of legislative initiatives and any changes made to regulations in the industry and provide many means of networking with colleagues.

Massage Therapy National Certification

National certification is supervised by the NCBTMB. The certification means a massage therapist has received a minimum of five hundred hours of training from an accredited massage therapy school. The school notifies the board that a student has demonstrated mastery of core skills, abilities, and knowledge. A future massage therapist pledges to uphold the NCBTMB’s Standards of Practice and Code of Ethics. Once training and pledging occurs, a future massage therapist is then eligible to take a certification exam.

Certification is important because it tells future clients that a massage therapist adheres to a certain level of practice. It is a sign of professionalism that the practice of massage by that particular therapist is a commitment to excellence. For the therapist, it is a visual statement of their commitment to the profession. It increases employment possibilities for a therapist because national certification crosses state lines. It also allows reimbursement from insurance companies for clients. The future massage therapist is now eligible for specialty certifications since they require having basic certification first.